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H o m e o n t h e F r in g e : “W e s t e r n ” A u t o b io g r a p h y , 1 9 3 6 -1 9 3 7 C a t h r y n H a l v e r s o n IN T R O D U C T IO N : W E S T E R N S O J O U R N S 1936—1937 saw the publication of three travel memoirs written by decidedly untraditional autobiographical subjects: a white self-described hobo, an African American domestic worker, and a group of three middleclass children. Sister of the Road depicts the life history and philosophy of Bertha Thompson: “The rich can become globe-trotters, but those who have no money become hoboes” (16-17). Buttressed by statistics and appendices, it also records Thompson’s findings about women wan­ derers in America. Juanita Harrison’s My Great, Wide, Beautiful World charts an around-the-world journey funded by stints of domestic labor. “I always get a job when I go out to get one,” its author explains, “but never feel any to glad no matter how good it is. Its when I am ready to give it up that I have the grand feeling” (253).1Around the World in Eleven Years and its sequel O f All Places! by Patience, Richard, and John Abbe describe the children’s sojourns in Europe and the United States as the family moved from site to site. Like “gypsies,” the Abbes are “people who have no regular place to stay in forever” (Abbe, Around the World 190). Sister of the Road, My Great, Wide, Beautiful World, and O f All Places! are among what I call “maverick autobiographies,” self-writings not only far from the imaginary norm of autobiographies but also striking for the oddity of the stories they tell, the oddity of the telling, and even the oddity of the circumstances under which they came to be told. The marginalized subject positions of their authors lead to their generic innova­ tion, as they find ways to get their voices heard and, often, make a profit in doing so. Maverick autobiographies are fun to read but tricky to write about. The initial appearance of maverick autobiographers as lacking origins, peers, and influence, not to mention a corpus of their own work, makes them difficult to access critically. (For Thompson and the Abbes, author­ ship itself is a vexed issue.) A lack of aesthetic pretense and an untu­ tored style contribute to the problem. Thus, Sister of the Road, the most W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n L i t e r a t u r e 41.1 ( S p r in g 2 0 0 6 ) : 2 3 - 4 8 . W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n l it e r a t u r e S p r in g 2 0 0 6 widely known of the three, serves as a documentary source for informa­ tion about migrants and radical politics in the 1930s, but it is not read as an autobiography, as a literary text. Harrison’s text, similarly, despite having been reprinted in 1996 as part of a series on African American women writers, has yet to attract critical attention.2 And nobody has touched the Abbes. Yet such texts matter as more than only sources or curiosities. Beyond just rescuing a few lost voices, a network of investigations into maverick autobiographies can fill in more extensive blanks in literary history, especially in women’s literary history. My experience with maverick autobiographies leads me to conjecture that the more out of place a once widely read writer may appear, the more she does not fit standard renditions of literary history, then the more urgent her claim to our attention: she points to one of our own blind spots. These outsider texts are especially rich terrain in which to explore issues of class, race, gender, and region. W hat I contend here is that one way to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 23-48
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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